Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Chivalry isn’t dead in Virginia, but it may be taken off the books during next year’s General Assembly.
An 81-year-old state code that makes it a crime to “falsely utter and speak” of any woman of “chaste character” will be repealed if two Republican state delegates have their way.
Delegates R. Steven Landes and William J. Howell say the code hasn’t been enforced in almost 40 years so there’s no reason to keep it around.
The current code says anyone who is caught using derogatory words when talking to a woman or “imputing to such female acts not virtuous and chaste” should be charged with a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by a $500 fine.
“The law is antiquated and old-fashioned, so why have a law that’s not enforced?” asked Mr. Howell, of Stafford County. “It’s not like we’re making it easier for a person to go around town and call some woman a prostitute. If they do that, they’ll still be subject to penalties.”
The two delegates are quick to point out that their move to repeal the law is no reflection on how they feel women should be treated.
“I’m from the old school, so I think a man should be a gentleman when dealing with a woman,” said Mr. Landes, of Weyer’s Cave in southwestern Virginia.
“Men should open doors for women. But everything has to be equal now in the eyes of the law,” Mr. Landes added. “That means the laws have to be current, up to date.”
They have filed a bill to repeal the slander and libel section of the code. The General Assembly will vote on it sometime during the 60-day session that begins Jan. 9.
Not only is the current law old-fashioned, the delegates say, but it could also be viewed by some as discriminatory against men. The current law addresses only women.
“I had a law student who said to me, ‘This law is just not fair because it doesn’t treat men and women the same,’” Mr. Landes said.
There’s a civil law already in place that protects both women and men against slander or libel, they say.
The code the delegates want to repeal was first implemented in March 1920. In the beginning, the code carried a more severe punishment: a $500 fine and six months in jail. Since then, however, the code and the punishment for breaking it have been revised several times, and it now only carries the fine.
A women’s group that was told about the bill this week had a tongue-in-cheek response.
“Oh, if only there were enough chaste women left to protect,” said Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, a conservative women’s public policy group in Washington. “As for the few that remain, perhaps they deserve protection.”
This isn’t the first time Mr. Landes has tried to remove archaic state laws. In 1997, the General Assembly passed a Landes bill that repealed two sections of state law that were supposed to make shop floors sanitary.
One section required the owner or operator of any “bakery, confectionery, or other food-producing establishment” to supply cuspidors, or spittoons, so tobacco-chewing employees would not spit on the walls or the floor. The same bill also repealed another section that allowed bakery owners to let cats prowl the premises as roaming pest-control devices.
In 1998, Mr. Landes passed a bill through the General Assembly that erased a law that made it illegal to walk on the grass at the state Capitol in Richmond. That law allowed Capitol Police to fine violators $5.

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